‘Elf’ Makes Fun of Disabled Adults Through Buddy: Opinion

  • “Elf” is a contemporary Christmas basic although it mocks cognitively disabled individuals. 
  • Buddy’s (Will Ferrell) incapacity is just not explicitly said, nevertheless it’s closely implied. 
  • To make a humorous film with disabled characters, simply embrace disabled individuals within the joke.

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“Elf” grew to become a contemporary vacation basic nearly immediately after it premiered in 2003. But nearly 20 years later, it nonetheless baffles me how offensive it’s to cognitively disabled adults. 

It stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a person raised as an elf within the North Pole and ignorant of the human manner of life. When he unintentionally overhears that he is human, he goes to New York City in search of his delivery father, Walter Hobbes (James Caan), a grinchy writer in want of some classes in love and kindness. 

Buddy’s enthusiasm for Christmas is excessive, even when in comparison with his elf “friends,” so it is comprehensible that the festive spirit of the film oozes from the display and into moviegoers’ hearts. In reality, the movie has grossed over $223 million worldwide, per Box Office Mojo.


But I could not sit by means of “Elf” for greater than 10 minutes with out feeling offended. After forcing myself to take a seat by means of the entire movie, I’m much more assured that purposefully or not, “Elf” makes enjoyable of cognitively disabled adults by means of Buddy.  

‘Elf’ tells the story of a person raised by elves struggling to exist in a world that wasn’t made for him

Will Ferrell at the

Will Ferrell on the “Elf” premiere in NYC.

Theo Wargo/WireImage


We are instructed very early on in “Elf” that there’s something that units Buddy other than different elves past the truth that he is human.

Although Buddy’s physique would not match on elf furnishings, his bodily physique is not the problem. It’s clearly established that there’s a cognitive distinction between Buddy and different elves.

He’s known as “particular” a number of occasions whereas on the North Pole. His toy-making expertise are less than par and he has to take a submit reserved for “particular” elves. 

“Special” is a time period usually used to otherize individuals with bodily and cognitive disabilities. It’s usually code for “totally different and lesser than” everybody else.


He’s additionally the one “elf” within the North Pole who would not notice he is human. So, Buddy’s intelligence is not that of a “regular” elf, or else he would not be so blindsided by the revelation. 

It solely will get worse from there. 

When he does make it to Manhattan, Buddy’s personal father Walter by no means stops utilizing derogatory phrases in opposition to him. At the physician’s workplace the place he forces Buddy to take a paternity check, Walter tells the physician Buddy is “certifiably insane.” Talking to his spouse later within the movie, Walter says his son is a “deranged elf man.” Even on the finish of the movie when Walter tells Buddy he loves him, he mentions that Buddy is “chemically imbalanced.”

“Elf” cannot actually be a heart-warming story of acceptance if Buddy isn’t really embraced for who he’s by one of crucial individuals in his life. 

If Buddy does have a incapacity, the film by no means explicitly says so — and it could have been stronger if it had



New Line Cinema

I’m not making an attempt to destroy a contemporary Christmas basic, however as a bodily disabled lady who spent half of my childhood with cognitively disabled children and adults, “Elf” offends me. 

It’s by no means explicitly said that Buddy has a incapacity, solely strongly implied. If “Elf” had said a cognitive distinction, it could have needed to take duty for its offensive language. That would imply erasing rather a lot of verbal and bodily comedy that we’re meant to snort at — however none of it’s humorous to me. 

Buddy consuming cotton balls, operating towards transferring taxi cabs, and even exposing a division retailer Santa as pretend would not encourage me to snort. Instead, these moments made me want he had an actual assist system in his life. 

Contrary to widespread perception, it’s doable to joke about incapacity. You simply should let disabled individuals know that they are in on the joke, too. The simplest way to do this is to solid disabled actors in disabled roles.

Or the movie may’ve not less than had a personality confront Walter in regards to the harsh phrases he continually hurls at Buddy. But that second by no means comes.

By the top of the movie, fortunately Buddy is succesful of standing up for himself. Had author David Berenbaum really dedicated to empowering Buddy, it could have been a uncommon and necessary gesture of assist towards the disabled group. Instead, “Elf” falls again on drained tropes for laughs.

Someone’s variations ought to by no means be the core of a joke

elf on netflix with buddy starring will ferrell

Bob Newhart additionally starred in “Elf.”


Like Buddy, some cognitively disabled adults consider in Santa and the magic of Christmas. Their pleasure brings the individuals who love them pleasure. They’d doubtless by no means be blatantly insulted by individuals who perceive the worth they bring about to the world.

Buddy is a hero and savior of Christmas in “Elf,” there isn’t any denying that, however he may have additionally been his personal champion. Instead, his implied incapacity is an afterthought within the movie, which is maybe a tragic metaphor for a way disabled persons are usually handled as an afterthought by society. 

In the longer term, filmmakers ought to rigorously think about the way in which disabled characters are depicted in movie and on TV, even when making a supposedly fun Christmas movie.

And they need to additionally bear in mind it is by no means humorous to make somebody’s incapacity the core of a joke. The sooner we settle for that as a society, the earlier somebody will have the ability to make a contemporary Christmas basic that’s really worthy of the love that “Elf” receives. 

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